I was recently directed to undertake training in a subject that has some topical relevance to what I shall call “the present situation.” The precise subject matter of the training doesn’t bear much scrutiny — it is mostly commonsense stuff, and is clearly meant as CYA for those further up the chain — but there was one particular point in this exercise where I had to (metaphorically speaking) throw down my pencil and walk away.
The moment was this: as part of a set of suggestions regarding how to improve team morale and cohesion while teleworking, the specific recommendation was made to start a betting pool around sports. And if some co-workers don’t know the sport well, use this as an opportunity to build personal relationships, and teach those co-workers about the sport, its teams and individuals.
I cannot overstate the intensity of my hostility when I read this. To imagine that coercing people into participating in gambling, specifically on the outcomes of some game the rules of which they do not know or give two shits to learn — because they’re fucking adults, and if they had cared to know they probably would have done so by now — is in any way positive or healthy beggars the imagination.
Part of my hostility stems, not surprisingly, from having been the gay kid in a heteronormative society where sports is that super-dangerous liminal zone where you can engage in rough physical contact with people you’re attracted to and even, as a teenager, get undressed in front of each other on a routine basis. And part of it stems from having been the kid who was tall for his age, but also smart for his age, and therefore skipped a grade and was still relatively tall, so of course I must have been good at running with those long legs (I wasn’t. I was always in the back with the fat Mexican chicks when we had to lope around the track), or of course I must have been good at basketball being so tall (I wasn’t. That shit takes coordination and practice, both of which I was always already a year behind on), or of course I must have been good at baseball having those long arms (I wasn’t. I never could figure out the damn rules, and by the time I might have had the hand-eye coordination to track a fastball and hit it with a bat it was devastatingly embarrassing to not know that one could not steal a base on another batter’s caught pop fly).
But mostly my hostility stems from the fundamentally….what’s the word I’m looking for here? …patriarchal? No… maybe? colonialist. No… how about evangelical? Maybe, but still not quite right. Hell, let’s go with simple chauvinist notion that there is a way to impose team spirit on a group, that people who aren’t feeling it can be coerced into that team spirit simply by witnessing to them, and that doing it around a ritual that involves handing money over on the turn of an arbitrary set of ultimately bullshit patterns… all of this is fucking bizarre. Give me a goddamn Balinese cockfight if we’re going to go down that road.
Speaking of which, this brought to mind the following imagined dialogue, were I ever to be so brave enough to fuck with the boundaries set by EEO:
Me: Hey everybody! [said in the sprightly tone of a some wild and crazy guy] so I just went to training and I got some great ideas for our team! Is everybody ready to try something new!
Sullen guy in the back: [mutters]
Most everybody else: [crickets]
Nice ingenuous immigrant type [i.e., “NIIT”]: Sure, pimpmaster, I’m game.
Me: One of the ideas they had was to start a betting pool around sports — who’s ready to try it?
Sullen guy in the back: [still relatively quietly, we’ll call him S-GIB from here on out] Are you fucking kidding me?
Most everybody else: [crickets]
Observant Caustic Southerner [i.e., “OCS”]: Ummm, where is this going?
Me: I was thinking something easy, maybe a fantasy final foursome with our favorite mix-and-match teams?
NIIT: Excuse me, what is this final fantasy, is it some type of video game?
Madame Assuming She Knows It All [i.e., MASKIA]: It’s usually the antepenultimate — i.e., the third-to-last [S-GIB snorts, Maskia ignores] round in a competition among teams. So if you start with “Sweet Sixteen” then whittle down to “Elite Eight” and so on.
Me: Yes, yes, that’s what I was thinking. So, for instance, who’s a fan of Titan?
OCS: Is that to me? I suppose I could get behind Tennessee.
Me: I’m sure you could. How about matched against Colt? Who’d be the last man standing?
MASKIA: Well, since I lived in Indiana for awhile I suppose I should root for them?
Me: Whatever your favorite is, we’re all fans here, right?
S-GIB [less quietly]: um, no.
Me: Well what about Sean Cody, then?
S-GIB: Wait, what? [looks at the butchische girl — BG — next to him, asks sotto vocce “are you following this?” He/her looks up from his/her phone, where he/her had been discretely reading Tolkein on Hoopla, turns to S-GIB and says “um, no. Should I be?”]
Me: Oh, he’s a director. I mean a coach. Whatever they’re calling themselves these days. What about you, S-GIB, are you a fan of Mr. Cody’s teamwork?
S-GIB: Um, no. I did follow the Bulls for awhile there in highschool, but that was a long time ago.
Me: The Bulls, eh? Well that is more advanced than I would’ve taken you for. I guess I thought you were a Bears kind of guy.
Earnest Young Chinese Man (EYCM): I’m confused. Aren’t the Bulls a basketball team?
Me: Oh that’s right. I forgot. Bulls, Bears, put them all in the shower — I mean on the field, my bad — and I guess they all look the same.
BG, for whom the penny is now starting to drop: I was never a fan of Mr. Cody’s, um, coaching. I think Cadinot advanced the field of play in much more interesting ways.
Me: That’s the spirit. Anyone else?
NIIT: Wait, who’s Cadinot? [turning to the painfully earnest Quebecois, or PEC] Is that someone from your neck of the wood, as I believe you say?
PEC: Well, he didn’t coach hockey, that I can tell you, and I’m sure he didn’t play for the Expos. Maybe the Oilers?
Me: Oh, so you’re a fan of Bel Ami then?
BG: [positively guffaws]; S-GIB: well hells bells this is why one should never miss staff meeting. BG, to S-GIB, sotto vocce: Wait, what? how do you know about Bel Ami? S-GIB: I had a very adventurous girlfriend once.
Me: [clearing my thought] Well, if everyone could put down their favorite team on this piece of paper, I’m sure someone can work out the details of the betting scheme. Shall we say 50/50 pot, with half the proceeds to go to the Christmas party?
EYCM, to NIIT: Who is this Bel Ami? Is it a Canadian baseball team?
NIIT: I’m not sure. Perhaps he meant Bon Ami, and it’s a Philadelphia team? It sounds kind of Quaker?
OCS: Um, no NIIT. Bon Ami is a cleaning product.